How I Prevent Chronic Injury During Long Distance Training
- If you asked me two and a half years ago if I thought it was healthy to be a long distance runner I would have plastered on a plastic smile. I would have taken a deep breath to prepare the RMT speech of how it damages joints, ligaments and breaks the body down over time. I would gently try to steer you into a long term yoga practice with functional strength sprinkled in between. Then it happened. I fell deeply, passionately, madly in love with running. Just over two years ago I stumbled into this wild adventure over what else? A silly conversation and a pint or two. My friend was moving to Europe and I have no idea how the subject came up, but he mentioned that he was going to do an Ironman. Blank stare response from me, what the heck is an Ironman? I vaguely remember the concept of swim, bike, run, but how long is an Ironman? “4km swim, 180km bike ride, 42.2 km run”. That is bananas...but I want to do that too!! I have no idea why, but this two-minute conversation planted the seed and I couldn't get it out of my head. It was like getting a silly crush on a boy in high school. I started thinking about what an Ironman actually meant, could I do it? The more I thought about it, the more the idea consumed me. I needed something in my life. Yes, my massage practice was fulfilling, and yoga definitely fed my soul, but there was this place inside of me that needed more. Somehow I knew this sport was going to heal all of the parts of me that I pushed deep, deep down.
The "Catch" to Long Distance Training
- Throughout this journey, I've heard the same as many endurance athletes have been told over and over again. That they should anticipate injury, even expect it. That it is just the price you pay for going the distance. I want to challenge that. In the last three years and I don't know how many kilometers later I am still injury free. Yes, I have had some aches and growing pains, but I really believe that if you take a moment to adjust your mindset on long distance sports and commit to yourself you can become a better athlete with minimal chronic injury.
- Take a look at what modern day western culture has done to the idea of movement and exercise. Our bodies are literally designed for movement, specifically running. Unfortunately in this day and age you can't just go out and run anymore, or swim, bike, run anymore. Our bodies over the last few generations have adapted to the comforts of modern living. Even incredibly active people who maintain a fabulous lifestyle still often have jobs that require them to sit at desks, commute, or perform repetitive movements. The issues that occur from sitting at a desk mimic the same chronic strain injuries that occur with running: shortened, weak hip flexors, tight strained low back, weakened core, rounded shoulders causing tight shortened pec muscles and long weak rhomboids. These issues are also caused when sitting in a car for long period of times or commutes on a train.
- Running is what we are born to do, but we can't do just that any longer. All of the muscle imbalances created from our daily lives in combination with poor body mechanics make it detrimental to our success. Same goes for swimming and biking. Significant mindfulness and muscle strengthening are required if we wish to avoid muscular strains, spinal/joint damage or ligament/tendon tearing and breakdown over time. The human body is meant to be worked and moved, I believe personally to places that we are told even not to go. We have the capacity to push ourselves to limits unimaginable to most, but we need to be smart about it. We have to start where we are and do so honestly.
Prevention is Key
- This is where yoga and massage therapy comes into play. I know I am biased because these two practices are the route I have personally followed, but I should expand that out to any form of a proactive rest and rehabilitation regiment. Trust yourself and your body. You know what you like and are personally attracted to. If chiro, physio, athletic therapy, or mobility classes float your boat go nuts. My only suggestion is to make sure the program is working for you. Don't just drain your bank account because a health practitioner tells you too. Ask questions, get second opinions, and most importantly see the results. If your injury isn't getting better, or you still feel chronically burnt out/tight then it is time to regroup and explore other options. I think a key thing to remember is this is YOUR body. Only you can keep it happy and healthy. This requires maintenance outside of your sessions, and the ability to constantly be checking in with yourself, loving yourself enough to listen when you need to rest and push when you need to push.
- Yoga has been a part of my life for a little over 15 years and goes hand in hand with endurance sports. Not only does it benefit you on a physical level, but it helps hone in the mind for the focus and strength needed to give you that extra push to get through a race. I think if you are coming into the practice from an endurance perspective take a look at your body and what your goals are to maximize your performance. There are many different styles of yoga, but I particularly love Hatha, Yin, and Restorative for cross training. Vinyasa flow is the most popular yoga style because of the faster pace, and it has more of a workout feel.
A few great websites that bring the practice to you are:
- Doyogawithme.com (essentially totally free and a great starting point)
- Yogaglo.com (I absolutely adore, phenomenal teachers and wicked practices, costs $18.99 a month)
- Gaia.com (A super cool site that not only has physical yoga practices but documentaries and talks on increasing health and consciousness. The cost is around $10 per month)
- Massage therapy is something I have passionately studied and practiced for over ten years. There is so much value receiving massage therapy for an athlete, with so many styles to choose from. The types of massage I treat my clients with, as well as personally receive are Swedish massage, myofascial release, Thai yoga massage, and trigger point release. Different massage styles are valuable for different times during your training season. It is important to become mindful of the body, and when muscle imbalances are detected. Particularly in off season, or at a time when a race isn't right around the corner, deep tissue in combination with myofascial release can work wonders. I'm sure as an athlete the word fascia keeps popping up in conversation. In my opinion, this connective tissue is the key to healing so many injuries.
- Fascia wraps around all of your muscles, organs, lines the skin and is essentially the body's seran wrap. When a muscle gets injured the fascia around it tenses up. When one area of fascia becomes tense it starts to pull on the entire band, so let's say an issue in the shoulders could cause pulling all the way down to the calf. Chronic bands of tension can cause shifts in pelvic or shoulder alignment, possibly even creating a shortening of a leg causing a whole wack of imbalances in the body. This leads to poor posture and that's when an athlete becomes frustrated with an injury that just won't seem to quit. This is where the magic of fascial release comes in. I work on unwinding these bands of tension, and then flushing out after with a Swedish oil based deep tissue massage. Not only is the area where immediate tension is felt is released, but the whole chain of dysfunction is able to let go. By doing this, performance is enhanced, and chronic injury is prevented.
- With a deep tissue style massage, trigger point release is used. This is when there is a knot in a muscle that causes referral pain to that area, or radiates to other areas of the body. Highly effective, trigger points can alleviate tension on a large scale because once the knot, let's say, in a glute muscle is released the pain that you are feeling moving down the leg dissipates as well. The key when receiving deep treatments is to do them when you are able to take proper recovery time. Getting a massage like this is like doing a workout. The tissues are being manipulated, repaired, and you are often sore for 24-48 hours after. I would not recommend doing this just before a major event or performance could actually decrease due to exhaustion from repair.
- A few days pre race, a great type of massage to receive is a traditional Swedish massage with long, light to medium strokes that help stimulate blood flow, and flush out lactic acid as well as the lymphatic system. This helps boost your immune system and promotes the nervous system creating a relaxed focused state.
- A day or so after the race Thai massage (fondly called “the lazy (wo)man's yoga”) would be phenomenal. This is probably one of my most favorite styles of massage, traditionally done on the ground. Using compressions, pressure points and stretches the whole body is balanced and released. It is done with clothes on and is quite interactive leaving you feeling relaxed, open, and recovered. The therapist essentially stretches your entire body out. If you have never had a Thai massage I highly recommend checking it out. This treatment can definitely be done pre race as well. It is almost like a tune up for the body.
Using modalities like massage therapy and yoga are in my opinion crucial for endurance athletes in this day and age. We need to support the high mileages with the balancing of the body. Our bodies can do amazing things, taking us to extreme places we have never imagined. I am the biggest cheerleader in GO THERE! Break beyond your boundaries, push to the edges, return back to the way our ancestors lived, catapult out of the sedentary trap western culture has boxed us into. But do it mindfully, so you can do it for the rest of your life and rock that beautiful existence of yours. Because you are worth it, and this world needs people who are going to send that inspiration out for others to catch. This is your moment, grab it, and ride on friends.
What is your favorite way to recover, treat or prevent chronic injuries? Tell us in the comments below!
Written by Krista Banik
Follow Krista on Instagram! @kristabanik